May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. If you have allergies or asthma, you’re aware! The head congestion, runny eyes or nose, itchy ears, cough, tightness in the chest, wheezing, or difficulty breathing that may accompany these health issues is difficult to ignore and tough to live with.
What is an allergy? If your body is exposed to a substance that it considers harmful (an allergen), your immune system may overreact in an effort to protect you. Common allergens may be certain medications, foods, stinging insects, latex, mold, dust mites, pollens, pet dander or saliva.
What are common symptoms of allergies? Your body’s overactive immune response may cause watery eyes, runny nose, itchy ears, sneezing, a rash, or hives. More serious allergic reactions may cause difficulty breathing or swallowing, immediate and dramatic swelling, or even loss of consciousness and death (an anaphylactic reaction).
How can I treat allergies? Your healthcare provider needs to know specific details of any reaction you have to allergens in order to develop an appropriate treatment plan with you. Treatment options may range from oral antihistamines, to allergy shots, to carrying an Epi-pen if you are at risk of having a severe or anaphylactic reaction.
What is asthma? Asthma is a disease of inflammation in the airways. Inflammation reduces a person’s ability to breathe, due to bronchospasm (tightening of muscles in the airway), mucus clogs, and swelling in the airways.
What are common asthma triggers? Some people are sensitive to environmental factors, causing an overreaction in the airways. These asthma triggers may be from allergies, irritants in the air (smoke, dust, pollutants), respiratory illness (colds, flu, pneumonia), exercise, weather (cold air, dry winds, or sudden weather changes), strong emotions, certain medications, or other medical sensitivities.
How is asthma treated? First, it is vital that a person be aware of their specific asthma triggers and carry a rescue inhaler to treat an asthma attack as soon as difficulty breathing is noted. Other symptoms of an asthma attack are tightness in the chest, wheezing, coughing, feeling short of breath, and difficulty speaking in full sentences.
If the rescue inhaler is not effective, 911 should be called so that a nebulizer treatment or injectable rescue medications can be administered. Asthma that is not responsive to rescue inhalers is a life-threatening medical emergency.
If you experience severe allergic or asthma symptoms, do not delay – call 911.
Marla LeFevre, RN
Director of Health Services